Just To Make You Smile ( A Teenage Daughter’s Reflections on Loving and Losing Her Father to ALS)
Author: Sarah Caldwell
Genre: Non-fiction young adult, memoir, biography, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, young adult memoir, losing a parent, healing from loss, teen & young adult biography
Price: 2.99 USD
Price: 12.99 USD
Cover art: Melody Pond
“My dad was going to die. My sweet, loving, caring, and wonderful-in-every-way dad was going to leave me before he could watch my sister and me grow up.”
At the tender age of fifteen, Sarah Caldwell learned that her father had been diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and had only a short time left to live. In moments her life went from texting friends, going to gymnastics practice and family vacations by the sea to watching her father’s rapid, irreversible deterioration, a process that plunged her into deep depression.
But Jim Caldwell was a man whose indomitable spirit in the face of his suffering provided the ultimate inspiration for Sarah to transform her depression into a journey of healing and love. She learned to accept her and her father’s fate and became determined not to waste a moment of the time she had left with him. When her father passed away, leaving Sarah to face life without her beloved dad, she was determined again to continue on the path of hope and strength, making sense of her loss and honoring his life by helping raise awareness of ALS and money for desperately-needed research for a cure.
With a special foreword by former pro-football player Steve Gleason, Just To Make You Smile is the rare, honest, compassionate and bold account of a young adult’s process of watching a parent get ill and die, and the inspiration she hopes to impart by sharing her grieving process, deep inner growth and healing. By telling her story in its entirety, from the lowest depths of grief and depression to the heights of finding her inner strength, making a difference and carrying on her father’s fighting spirit, she hopes to touch the lives of others, especially kids with a sick parent, letting them know they are never alone on this difficult journey.
My name is Sarah Caldwell. I am seventeen years old. My dad was diagnosed with the disease ALS—also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease—when I was fifteen years old; he passed away just sixteen months later. ALS is a neurological disease that gradually robs a person of his or her ability to walk, talk, and eventually breathe. The whole time, the mind is typically alert and functional. At fifteen, I found out my dad was going to die through finding a bottle of his medication. At sixteen, I found out he had died when my mom came to get me at gymnastics practice and, through tears, told me Dad hadn’t made it.
Doctors on TV (and I’m sure in real life too, but I’m not a doctor) are taught to spell out the situation when someone passes and literally say, “He died.” Saying, “He didn’t make it,” or, “We did everything we could,” simply doesn’t cut it. I didn’t understand that until my mom told me, “Dad didn’t make it.” I didn’t understand what she was saying. I had seen my dad that morning, and he was still talking and walking and smiling. There’s no way he could be gone…could he? But in fact, I had been left without my father, my mentor, my hero. This man would not be there to tear up when I graduated from high school or walk me down the aisle when I got married. At age sixteen, I was put in a situation few people my age have experienced. And I didn’t even get to say goodbye.
This memoir is the story of my journey through my dad’s diagnosis, death, and what I have chosen to do to carry on his legacy. After my dad was diagnosed with ALS, I felt as though I didn’t have anyone to turn to who was experiencing a similar situation. I didn’t know anyone else my age who had a dying parent, and when I looked for books, I couldn’t find any that could help me. I didn’t know if what I was feeling was normal. Was I supposed to have feelings of resentment toward my dad for being sick? To lie on the floor and cry myself to sleep every night? It was months of depression, anger, and denial before I finally woke up and literally picked myself up off the ground. I chose to do everything I could to live without any regrets in the time I had left with him and stand beside my hero in his battle with ALS.
I helped him go swimming with stingrays and swing a golf club again. I encouraged him that he wasn’t missing much by not being able to eat dinner with us anymore (“Sorry Mom, the chicken is dry”), and I made riding in a wheelchair fun (picture me racing him across the room and “accidentally” flipping him over). More importantly, I helped do something about his greatest frustration: there is no cure or effective treatment for ALS. I helped found a group, Team Red Trekkers, to raise awareness of ALS and fundraise to help find a cure. Less than a month later, my dad lost his battle with this disease. ALS had defeated him. But then again, it hadn’t. My dad had maintained his positive attitude up until the end, and he never blamed anyone for his disease. I honestly don’t know if I would ever be able to do that; I would probably blame my parents for “giving me bad genes” as I do whenever I get sick. Even after my dad died, I wasn’t about to stop fighting ALS. I wanted to carry on my dad’s mission to find a cure. My campaigns have touched people nationwide, raising awareness of and funding for this currently incurable disease.
After my dad died, I was introduced to a girl my age, Karen, whose mom was diagnosed with ALS. As I wrote this book, I started giving her drafts as I made progress, and, every time, I could see the weight of sorrow lift off her shoulders just a little. She no longer was alone. If this book has the potential to reach just one person like Karen, just one person who realizes what they are feeling is normal, then I can know my contribution to the world has truly made a difference. I will have helped someone who needs help, the exact thing that I needed all those months ago when my family’s journey with ALS first began.